WiFi at Riverfront Park brings Western Land Museum back to life

Katelyn Waltemyer
Jackson Newspapers
Taylor Heath looks at some of the artifacts in Washington's Western Lands Museum.

About a year ago, time stopped in the Washington Western Lands Museum in Ravenswood. The museum, located in the Washington Riverfront Park hasn't been open to the public since, but the WiFi added to the park in March is doing more than providing convenience — it's allowing the museum to breathe again.

Projects are now underway to clean, organize, install HVAC and bring a full-time employee to the museum. Katrena Ramsey, superintendent of Ravenswood's Parks and Recreation, said she looks forward to turning "grandma's attic" into a professionally-run facility. 

"We've gone from having a building that's rarely open to we're gonna have a museum," Ramsey said. 

This project was heavily funded by two organizations: The Fund for Ravenswood and Coplin Health Services. These organizations gave $4,000 and $3,000, respectively. Ramsey said the City paid a small portion as well. Once the funds were in, it took about three weeks to install the internet. 

Since there's a railroad in front of the entrance to the park, it was challenging to install the internet, Ramsey said. The internet was set up in a maintenance building across the street from the park, and there's now a WiFi "bridge" that carries the signal over from the building to the park. 

The museum's first and second floors are filled with artifacts.

The Jackson County Historical Society gave the City control of the museum's artifacts last year because it didn't have enough manpower to run it anymore, Ramsey said. The museum used to only be open seasonally because it didn't have heating or air.  

Craig Greening, a Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioner, said the quality and usability of some of the artifacts inside the building are unknown given the potential weather damage. An HVAC system is expected to be installed in the coming weeks, Ramsey said. Once the artifacts are assessed, the curator will input their information into a computer system. Greening said he's excited to see the museum have a database soon. 

"WiFi will help a lot because we can have ... one or two teams working in different parts of the museum all feeding into the same basic software or servers," Greening said.  

Taylor Heath, a Ravenswood resident and a volunteer for Ravenswood's Parks and Recreation helped clean the museum a couple weeks ago in preparation for the HVAC and curator. She said "it was a lot to clean," but she's happy to see the museum being brought back to life. 

"Growing up here, and then like, going there and seeing like, Ravenswood, like, back in the day — it's just crazy," Heath said. 

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Greening said internet connection was the "basic infrastructure component" to reopen the museum. Now that there's WiFi, Greening has several goals for the museum.

He said he wants to rotate some exhibits regularly, especially during the school year, so when the eighth graders come, they will see something a little different from the fourth graders, and so on. Another goal Greening has for the museum is creating QR codes so people can use their phones to look up information on specific artifacts. 

"Having the WiFi there for the museum, specifically, is gonna help us move, basically, going from no technology, to whatever technology is available at the moment," Greening said. 

Ramsey said she applied for a grant through the Preserve West Virginia AmeriCorp program and was selected to host a full-time curator at the museum for one year. She said AmeriCorp is in the process of hiring the individual, and she said she expects them to start working in August. AmeriCorp will fund the majority of the curator's salary and the City will pay about $5,000. 

— Katelyn Waltemyer (she/her) is the General Assignment and Enterprise Reporter for Jackson Newspapers in Jackson County, West Virginia. Have a news tip on local government or education? Or a good feature? You can reach Katelyn at kwaltemyer@jacksonnewspapers.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kate_Waltemyer.